Q&A: How Human-Centered Design Has Disrupted Cancer Treatment

Mu Young Lee, director of new product solutions at Varian Medical Systems, details the design behind the company’s recently unveiled radiotherapy system and talks about an industry shift in the approach to cancer treatment technologies.

Varian Medical Systems introduced the Halcyon System earlier this year in an effort to simplify and enhance image-guided volumetric intensity-modulated radiotherapy.

Varian Medical Systems

Earlier this year, Varian Medical Systems made some big waves within the realm of cancer treatment when it introduced the Halcyon system, an entirely new device for cancer treatment that was designed to expand the availability of high-quality cancer care around the globe.

The new system was designed to simplify and enhance virtually every aspect of image-guided volumetric intensity-modulated radiotherapy. The Halcyon technology platform was designed to empower clinicians to care for more patients by automating, streamlining, and simplifying virtually every aspect of treatment, from imaging patients in as little as 15 seconds, to providing a pathway to adaptive radiotherapy with opportunities to research new treatment protocols.

Mu Young Lee, director of new product solutions at Varian, is the product line owner of the new platform and plays a vital role in the engineering, product management, and marketing functions for the new radiotherapy system. Lee will be speaking at the MD&M Minneapolis conference on “How Human-Centered Design Disrupted Cancer Treatment” on Thursday, Nov. 9.

Lee recently chatted with MD+DI Qmed about the design of the new cancer treatment system, as well as the company’s new human-centric approach to designing cancer treatment technologies that can increase clinical efficiency and treatment quality.

MD+DI Qmed: For starters, can you give our readers a brief overview of the new Halcyon system recently unveiled by Varian? How does the company think the new system will impact the field of cancer treatment?

Lee: Varian introduced the Halcyon treatment system to set a new standard for the combination of efficiency and quality in radiotherapy.  Starting with a human-centric design process we developed new technologies that have reduced the number of steps for the clinical user from a workflow that required over 30 steps down to under 10 steps.  With the pressure on clinical teams to do more with less, Halcyon was designed to increase the total value of ownership by making a system that is easy to install, commission, learn, d operate without compromising on clinical quality.

MD+DI Qmed: How do you think human-centered design has had an impact on cancer treatment, and what do you think triggered Varian’s desire to approach the design of cancer treatment systems differently?

Lee: In radiotherapy, human-centric design has historically taken a backseat to technological advancement.  Our users do more than treat disease; they care for patients.  Varian saw the opportunity to put the patient and the clinicians at the center of our design development. We made sure to address patient comfort in our design process as well as clinical efficiency and treatment quality.

MD+DI Qmed: What do you think are some of the biggest keys to increasing efficiency when it comes to designing cancer treatment systems, without completely abandoning cost-cutting measures?

Lee: We have addressed increasing efficiency in several ways with Halcyon. First, we have shortened the installation time which could previously take up to a month, down to under two weeks.  This is allowing clinics to recapture previously lost time that can now be used to treat patients.  Next, we’ve simplified the product training curriculum so that clinicians can get up to speed quickly.  Third, we’ve reduced the time spent delivering the therapeutic beam.  And finally, we’ve reduced the time to acquire the pre-treatment image that is used to properly position the patient.  As clinicians are being stretched to do more, it is essential that we not only deliver new capabilities, but those new capabilities must not burden the healthcare system with an increased workload.  In fact, newer product offerings should ideally decrease the workload while increasing capability or capacity.

MD+DI Qmed: How important do you think it is to continue to incorporate patient feedback into the design of cancer treatment technologies, and how has Varian made this a priority with the Halcyon system?

Lee: The focus of these systems is delivering treatment to patients, so patient feedback is crucial. For example, during radiotherapy treatments, the cancer patient is alone in the room while the treatment beam is being delivered.  Radiotherapy delivery systems typically provide a connection between the patient and the therapist via an intercom and video system.  Considering patient comfort and confidence, we’ve built active noise cancellation in the intercom.  We’ve also more than doubled the size of the patient video image in the operator console GUI so that he or she can concentrate on the patient and not the medical device.  Additionally we incorporated feedback from patients during our development research to make Halcyon our quietest treatment delivery machine, enable the system to be operated at a comfortable ambient room temperature, and when the patient enters the room they will see their photo and treatment information displayed on the touch screen monitor built into the treatment delivery system.

MD+DI Qmed: How much of a challenge has it been when it comes to simplifying complex technologies? What are some tips that you could give other device makers that you’ve learned over the years at Varian?

Lee: Eliminating complexity for our users was a program development priority that was clearly communicated to the product development team from the beginning.  We made the commitment to embed the user experience and design thinking experts into the project team from the start to the finish rather than treating those experts as internal “consultants” to be contacted on an as-needed basis.

MD+DI Qmed: As someone who works in new product solutions, what are some trends that you see having a significant impact on the field of cancer treatment that other developers should keep an eye on?

Lee: Given the trends in health economics, new product development teams have to remain cognizant of the need for operational efficiency and ease of integration of the new products into the clinicians’ ecosystem.

MD+DI Qmed: Finally, you’ve worked extensively over the years in the field of cancer treatment technologies. What would you say is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned when it comes to designing novel technologies that can change the way we view cancer treatment?

Lee: When designing technology for cancer treatment, it’s easy to fall into a techno-pugilistic mindset where we convince ourselves that our mission is to build advanced products to fight cancer.  But if we focus our thoughts and intent on improving the care of patients, it would change the way we view cancer treatment and Halcyon is a reflection of that.

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